Checklist for Schools

If you are thinking of setting up your local school with solar, this is the checklist in the correct order:

1. School Specs:

You will need to find out

  • Roof area facing north
  • Roof pitch (the angle of the roof)
  • Roof type. (corrugated iron etc)
  • Document the power bills for the last year. This will be your benchmark, to measure future savings. Record (units) kWhs used each month, cost per unit and cost for each month.
  • Photograph the power board. Include a shot of the whole board (cover off) and a detailed close up of the meter/s. Don't touch the wiring!
  • Photograph the school building where the panels will go and, if possible, get up higher for a photo of the roof area.
  • Go on-line and find your school on Google Earth. Save that image.

Hints/Comments.

If your main roof area faces NE or NW, the panels will still work, but not as efficiently. A building facing 30 degrees either side of due north will receive about 90 per cent of the optimal winter solar heat gain (Department of Energy, 2000).
Now is the time to get your roof cleaned, repaired and painted. It will look so much better in the photos! If you are painting your roof, have a look at this website for reasons why you should paint it white. http://www.whiteroofproject.org/faq.
Now is the time to start looking at which power company provides the best rate for the excess power you will generate.

2. Ministry of Education:

Contact the Ministry by emailing your local School Property Infrastructure Group and inform them of your intention. As at November 2012, they would need to see the structural engineers report stating that the roof can take the extra weight and the architects report stating that they will be fixed in such as manner so as to not diminish the integrity of the roof (i.e. penetrations that then cause leaks that the school would have to pay to fix). The installation company may do this for you.

3. Quotes:

You will need to know how much money has to be raised so approach a PV (solar) installer for a quote. There is also a lot of useful information on these websites.

Here are some companies to choose from:
CPS Solar, Christchurch. Phone 0800 277 548
What Power Crisis, Auckland. Phone 0508 942 876
Solar City, Nelson. Phone 0508 853 853
Powersmart Solar, Tauranga. Phone (09) 889-0500

4. Council Approval:

Generally your installer will contact your local council. Councils working under the Solar Promise (www.solarcity.co.nz/blog/media-releases/nelson-council-launches-the-solar-promise) often don't charge for a permit, but they do need to be informed!

5. Installation:

A house generally takes a full day to mount the panels on the roof, run the electrical cabling and install the inverter. For a school, allow between two and four days. Plan for the installation to happen during the school holidays!
Make sure your IT person is available during the install to help set up the router etc.
It is a lot better to mount the inverters inside your building. Vandals can turn the inverters off if they are outside and for safety reasons, it is illegal to padlock them on.

6. Inspection:

An inspector will then check the installation and complete an Electrical Certificate of Compliance. Usually arranged by the installer.

7. Power Company:

In November 2014, the last two power companies paying decent buy-back rates reduced those rates considerably. The buy back rates for Meridian customers dropped from 25c/kWh to between 7c and 10c, depending on the season. Contact has dropped from 17c/kWh to 8c kWh. (Both for systems up to 10 kW). Genesis Energy is the default supplier for most schools and they pay 5.95 cents per kWh.

8. Import/Export Meter:

From the time it is installed, your school's PV system is generating power your school can use, and it is exporting any excess onto the grid. You will need to have a person contracted to the electricity distribution company to change your meter to an import/export meter, to allow you to be paid for any excess energy you generate. (For example, during the summer school holidays). (In Wellington, the company is Wellington Electricity Lines Ltd). This costs around $85.00.

These days, most of these meters are smart meters. It means you don't need to have a meter reader visiting as the readings are sent back electronically to your power company. There is a waiting period up to 30 days for the meter import/export meter to be installed! I am told there is a shortage of these meters!

Hints/Comments:

If you change power companies, your existing power company will do the final reading as an estimate, even if you have a smart meter! Make sure you read the meter yourself on the changeover date. If their reading is too high, the school will be overcharged. You will need to claim the refund off the new provider. (Another problem to be resolved).

Each month, on the day of your readings, photograph your inverter and power meter displays. This can prove an invaluable double check, if you think your power company readings seem to be wrong. (Any good digital stills camera will record the date and time).

9. Insurance:

Inform your insurance company by email, so it is in writing. The information about your system includes: Number of panels, what brand, the inverter brand and serial number, and the replacement value of the installation. The solar system is now part of the building.